Setting Sail for the Sun

Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 7 pm at Huntsville-Madison County Main Public Library Main Auditorium, with Les Johnson, Principal Investigator for NASA Interplanetary Solar Sail Missions.

Join HAL5 as we welcome back Les Johnson, who will talk about his work on developing solar sails at Marshall Space Flight Center and its role in propulsion and exploration of the Sun. With the successful flights of NASA's NanoSail-D and the Planetary Society's LightSail, solar sails are making the transition from an interesting idea to be demonstrated to technology ready for use on space missions. Scientists and engineers here in Huntsville are doing just that with the development of the Near Earth Asteroid Scout's 925 square foot solar sail that will fly in 2020. And that's not all, in August, a team led by NASA MSFC was selected as a finalist to develop an 18,000 square foot solar sail for a project called, Solar Cruiser, that may fly as early as 2024. If you would like to learn the fundamentals of solar sailing and get the scoop on these two innovative and exciting missions, then hang on as we "Set Sail for the Sun!"

About Les Johnson

Les Johnson is a Principal Investigator of two interplanetary solar sail space missions at the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The first, Near Earth Asteroid Scout, scheduled for spaceflight in 2020, will use a 925 square foot solar sail to propel a small spacecraft to rendezvous with an asteroid. The second, Solar Cruiser, will demonstrate the ability of an 18,000 square foot solar sail-propelled spacecraft to perform scientific observations of the sun when it flies in 2024.

During his career at NASA, Les served as the Manager for the Space Science Programs and Projects Office, the In-Space Propulsion Technology Project, and the Interstellar Propulsion Research Project. Les is also a husband, father, and author. Publisher's Weekly noted that "The spirit of Arthur C. Clarke and his contemporaries is alive and well…" when describing his 2018 novel, Mission to Methone. His 2018 non-fiction book, Graphene: The Superstrong, Superthin, and Superversatile Material That Will Revolutionize the World was reviewed in the journal Nature, excerpted in American Scientist and on His latest anthology, Stellaris: People of the Stars, coedited with Robert Hampson, was published by Baen Books in September 2019.

Les is a founding member of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop and has chaired all five of the previous TVIW interstellar symposia. He was elected as a member of the International Academy of Astronautics and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society.He is a member of the National Space Society and MENSA. More information about Les's work can be found at

The event is free and open to the public. A social will be held after the meeting.